Sitting is the New Smoking

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS

There has been a phrase circulating in the media over the past few years that can be quite alarming for the average American who finds themselves sitting for most of the day for work, hobbies, or simply by choice: “Sitting is the new smoking”. Now, I don’t even have to get into how bad smoking has been proven to be for our health and the good news is that many people in our society agree with that and have taken measures to remove smoking from their lives. However, sitting is a common theme during our day-to-day activities in our country, so much so that “data from adults in high-income countries suggest the majority of time awake is spent being sedentary”.1

What are the implications associated with sitting that give it such a bad rep? Some of the highlights of the negative effects related to a lack of physical activity include increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, some cancers, and even premature mortality.1 Needless to say, all of those negative effects are things that we do not want in our lives. However, because of the nature of much of our work, many of us are relegated to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, five days a week. So, what, if anything, can we do to counter the negative effects of our required sitting?

A lot of us are required to sit often for our jobs. How can we change that?
A lot of us are required to sit often for our jobs. How can we change that?

A group of researchers recently sought out to find the answer to that exact question. They analyzed 16 high-quality studies with data from over one million people. I’ll repeat that last part – they had date from over one million people, meaning that the researchers had a lot of data to base their results off of! What they found was that those people who were more physically active, getting in at least 60-75 minutes per day of moderate intensity physical activity, seemed to have no increased risk of mortality even if they did have to sit for more than eight hours per day.1 That gives hope to those of us who are required to sit for that extended period of time due to our jobs, hobbies, etc. that, by making sure we get the right amount of activity into our day, we can come out in the end with no higher risk of mortality related to all that sitting.1 Other factors to take into consideration are how to decrease your total amount of sitting time to less than four hours per day, as those folks tend to have lower risk of mortality associated with sitting.1 Is there any way you can get a standing desk or, even better yet, a treadmill walking desk to use at your day job? Can you fit in the 60-75 minutes of moderate physical activity into your lunch break, by doing such activities as taking a brisk walk?

Just remember, you’re not “doomed” if you have to sit for roughly eight hours (or more) a day. However, you have to be active in order to counteract the negative effects of the time you spend sitting! If you need help with figuring out more ways to work activity into your lifestyle and especially to prevent injury while doing so, schedule an appointment soon with one of our specialized physical therapists to find out your options.

  1. Ekelund U, Steene-Jahannessen J, Brown WJ, et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonized meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. The Lancet. Avail online 28 July 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30370-1.